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Cardinal Jaime Sin, 76; Filipino Cleric Played Pivotal Role in Ousting Dictator

June 21, 2005|From Associated Press

Cardinal Jaime Sin, one of Asia's most prominent religious leaders and a key figure in the "people power" revolt that ousted Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, died today in Manila, his spokesman said. He was 76.

Father Jun Sescon told DZBB radio in Manila that the cardinal, who had been in poor health for years, was hospitalized Sunday with a high fever and suffered multiple organ failure before his death early today.

"Our call to all the faithful is to include in their prayers the soul of Cardinal Sin," Sescon said.

Sin retired as Manila archbishop in November 2003 and was unable to attend the Vatican conclave that chose a pope in April.

"As I enter a new chapter in my twilight years, I can say with gratitude that I have given my very best to God and country," he said after Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation. "I beg pardon from those I might have led astray or hurt. Please remember me kindly."

Sin was considered to be the Philippines' moral compass and was known for his vocal stances on everything from birth control to poverty, politics and the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

He stepped down as head of the Manila Archdiocese, which he had served for nearly three decades, after reaching retirement age of 75. Declining health forced him to curtail his appearances, but he remained a staunch guardian of democracy.

Hours before hundreds of soldiers and officers staged a failed revolt against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in July 2003, Sin urged Filipinos to be vigilant against groups plotting to violently overturn the nation's democratic institutions.

The 14th of 16 children of a Chinese merchant and a Filipina, Sin was born in New Washington, Aklan, Philippines, on Aug. 31, 1928. He had a sense of humor about his name, often referring to his residence as "the house of Sin."

He was ordained a priest on April 3, 1954, and was appointed the archbishop of Manila on Jan. 21, 1974. He was elevated to cardinal in May 1976.

He became a prominent figure on the international stage when he called on Filipinos to surround the police and military headquarters in metropolitan Manila in 1986 to protect then-military Vice Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who had broken away from Marcos.

That led to the "people power" revolution that ousted Marcos over alleged corruption and human rights violations. The largely peaceful revolt became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide. Corazon Aquino replaced him as president, and Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

But the country's problems continued, partly because of the endemic corruption that had blossomed under Marcos.

"We got rid of Ali Baba, but the 40 thieves remained," Sin once said.

Sin also helped lead street protests that contributed to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada over alleged corruption and misrule in January 2001. The church wasn't fond of Estrada, a reported womanizer who was allegedly known for late-night drinking and gambling.

Although revered by many Filipinos, Sin came under criticism over his activism. He had a thorny relationship with President Fidel Ramos, a Protestant whose 1992-98 administration promoted the use of artificial birth control. Sin advocated natural methods.

Impoverished followers of Estrada, denouncing Sin and politicians who had forced their leader from power, stormed the presidential palace in May 2001 in riots that killed six people.

Sin issued an unprecedented apology to the poor shortly thereafter, acknowledging that the church had neglected them and made them easy prey for selfish, powerful people. He assured them that the church was not "anti-Estrada, but pro-morality."

The local church also had been hit by accusations of sexual misconduct involving priests. Two years ago, Catholic bishops apologized for grave cases of sexual misconduct by priests in recent years and pledged to act on complaints.

Church leaders were consulting with Sin's family on funeral arrangements.

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